With family activity in Plant City going back over a century and our offices being in downtown since 1919, my exposure to several experienced and wise witnesses to change along the passage of generations has been high. My mother, now past 90 (I’m not telling) was raised and churched within a few blocks of the train depot. And though she went “away” to college and married and made an excellent doctor of my father with their eventual long ties in Lakeland, she always kept in touch with her Plant City childhood friends and associations and eventually returned to her girlhood home in Plant City. My working with her father since my college graduation until his death in 1996, and then my father when he assumed command of our Plant City offices until his retirement, allowed me to tune in to many fine conversations about Plant City economics and looming growth. Many of those offering dining room conversation now have streets or buildings bearing their names, and I recall the many talks about the times before I-4 or the last section of I-75 were built.
For perspective, my past activities in this region include citrus (harvesting, caretaking, brokerage, trucking, & eventual sale or development once the industry here was doomed), property management (residential, business offices, & tourist motels), historic renovation, automobile dealerships, and a brief but enjoyable stint with a cemetery funeral home operation. Yet I readily admit that those who know and relish the past like myself may miss many a bus headed to the future. And conversely often it is the young dreamers who predict the future more accurately than those who’ve witnessed it happening up to now. The Wright Brothers were younger when they first flew than the Captain of the Titanic.
So now that I’ve laid the groundwork for how my opinion is subject to being worth the price you paid for this paper, here are a few thoughts I hear about and/or ponder myself as to Plant City:
The beautiful and iconic unirrigated pastureland that surrounds Plant City will disappear faster than anyone would wish. The main cause is not that growth of housing and/or jobs must occur on it, but rather that the system that used to exist to uphold the economic stability of spacious pastureland agriculture for generations to come faltered already, and will do more so ahead.
The population growth will be attended and supervised by a larger percentage of City personnel and planners who have decreasing ties to the City’s heritage. Often, they won’t even live here. This is not an intentional insult, but rather just a fact of life as we grow from a fine locally manageable town into a City 5 times larger than what was pre-I-4 and suburban sprawl.
Those planners and designers will look to “master plans” (which were originally only intended as vision casting guides) and sadly increase treating them as holy testament policy to be varied from at great peril – no matter that they may have been crafted a decade prior to a pending request. Such “plans” were never meant to be the end all guide for all time as to what may happen when developers with real investment moneys decide to actually do the work of changing the future of long held agricultural lands. Predictions can be healthy as long as they don’t become policy.
Downtown will survive and in many ways revive to at least 2/3rds of what it was when it was all there was. However, it will never again be what the kids who loved “Leave it to Beaver” and “Bonanza” recall. It may even one day have a high-end dinner restaurant again. Yet I worry that government planners attending to that hope are less successful than the private sector has proven to be in almost every successful downtown revitalization.
As to Downtown’s future, the large church presences that have fled it or diminished in the size and downtown dictatorial import of their flocks, the closure of the Post Office, the relocation long ago of our Police Station, and the slow decline of bank offices desiring downtown main offices, all speak to how our Downtown will move more towards things that have an entertainment component as part of their business model, and there should be an increase in apartment condo residences as well. To some degree, business professional offices will remain, but no longer as “premier”, but rather as attractive to certain destination professionals who either enjoy a pedestrian community during lunchtime, or who enjoy spacious old-style architecture with ceilings over 8 feet and hallways wider than 42 inches.
There will be fewer and fewer places on the main roadways where a car can turn left.
The quality of public art will decrease in merit and increase in eliciting comment.
Our town will make the regional news more frequently and mostly on coverage of negative events – welcome to our newcomers who were not raised with a cow out back and an upbringing wherein they learned how to back a trailer.
All in all, there still is nowhere else I would wish to live and struggle to make a positive difference. There’s nowhere else I would wish for my children to find joy, employ, and the beginnings of parenthood; even with all of the growing pains and my certainty that one day soon I will look back at Plant City of old like I now recall the eastern end of Lumsden Road in Brandon being a clay road with orange, grapefruit, and tangerine groves on all sides.
Take pictures folks, because faster than you would ever think, Plant City will change.